Symbol of Hope

Symbols have power.  The ancient Romans were onto this, and they knew how to wield it.  They dominated conquered people and kept them subjugated through that timeless implement of control—fear.  The Romans planted symbols everywhere to keep the fear fresh.  One of the most enduring and fearful symbols was that symbol of execution by crucifixion, the cross.  The Romans didn’t invent crucifixion, but they did tune it for maximum cruelty, and they did use it liberally, at least in Judea.  The cross was a potent symbol of gruesome torture, fear and oppression for a thousand years until Constantine abolished crucifixion to honor Christ.

The symbol of the cross is no less potent now than it was thousands of years ago.  But a remarkable thing happened.  It now stands for love, hope and salvation.  Even the atrocities of the Crusades and Klu Klux Klan, committed bearing the sign of the cross, didn’t permanently throw the symbol’s meaning back to its ancient horror.  That the meaning of this symbol could be so radically transformed and still be powerfully evocative today is no less miraculous than bodily resurrection itself.

If you seek radical transformation for yourself, if there is a part of you that fills you with horror or angst, or if you desperately seek to make a break from your past, the symbol of the cross might offer you hope and encouragement.  It has a thousand year history of darkness, and yet it was radically remade into a symbol of light and love.  That remade meaning has endured for thousands of years more.  If that hateful image could be redeemed from its past and fundamentally transformed, then surely by God’s power, we can be, too.

My Easter prayer for you is that the darkness in your past will be redeemed.  The history of the cross’ symbolism wasn’t rewritten, and your history won’t be rewritten either.  Whatever malice or spite is lying in your past will remain there.  However, Jesus assures us in scripture that our returning is made more joyful to God because of our past sins, not despite them.

I used to wonder why Christians perceive more joy over one sinner returning than many staying on righteous paths.  Staying on the straight and narrow is no mean feat, after all.  I suspect the reason has to do with heartbreak.  To use a sailing analogy, imagine a sailing ship returning with all her crew from a routine voyage.  Certainly loved ones would happily welcome the expected return of any voyage.  Imagine the heartbreak and grief instead if the ship failed to return and all were feared lost at sea.  And then, imagine the ship limping into harbor with all souls accounted for.  The rejoicing would be greater because the returning conquers the heartbreak.

There is heartbreak and grief when we veer off course.  We inflict it on ourselves, on others and on God.  Upon returning, the heartbreak is not just repaired as if we had never veered off but surmounted, vanquished, and transcended.  It is like the resurrection of Jesus conquering his death or a symbol’s meaning transforming from cruelty to salvation.  So search yourself for the darkness within you, acknowledge the heartbreak there, and look to the cross with hope for redemption.

Join the conversation.  What is your deepest and most fervent hope?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit http://www.AcrossTraditions.com.

A Holy Spark

The last post pondered what it is to be redeemed from wrong choices and healed from heartbreak, suggesting it is like finding a reality that was there all along but somehow hidden from view. How do we come into this new way of seeing? How do we seek out what we can’t even see?

There was a time when I focused intently on this question. I filled sleepless nights trying to visualize what my life would look like on the other side of being saved. I thought hard about what, exactly, it means to be redeemed. It sounds silly, but I dissected Mirriam-Webster’s definition. The breadth of the definition surprised me, but I could identify every single meaning of “redeem” as something that in one way or another I fervently desired.

1a : to buy back : REPURCHASE b : to get or win back
2: to free from what distresses or harms: as
  a : to free from captivity by payment of ransom
  b : to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental
  c : to release from blame or DEBT : CLEAR
  d : to free from the consequences of sin
3: to change for the better : REFORM
4: REPAIR, RESTORE
5a : to free from a lein by payment of an amount secured thereby
  b (1): to remove the obligation of by payment
     (2): to exchange for something of value
  c : to make good : FULFILL
6a : to atone for : EXPIATE
  b (1) : to offset the bad effect of
     (2) : to make worthwhile : RETRIEVE

The returning to God is not merely going back to our original proper course as if we had never veered off.  It’s greater than that. God wins us back, extricates us, pays our ransom, and conquers heartbreak in an act of unceasing unconditional love. I’ve made choices I wanted God not to forgive so much as to erase from history, as if they never happened. That desire is not authentic, though. God doesn’t revise history. He builds on it, using all the crumbs and brokenness for some good. He makes them worthwhile.

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner asserts that we should not condemn the wrongdoing, but rather embrace it for what it is.

We go down into ourselves with a flashlight, looking for the evil we have intended or done—not to excise it as some alien growth, but rather to discover the holy spark within it. We begin not by rejecting the evil but by acknowledging it as something we meant to do. This is the only way we can truly raise and redeem it.

Kushner poetically concludes that it is only by embracing our offenses that we can transform them to good and reconcile ourselves to ourselves and to God.

We receive whatever evils we have intended and done back into ourselves as our own deliberate creations. We cherish them as long-banished children finally taken home again. And thereby transform them and ourselves. When we say the vidui, the confession, we don’t hit ourselves; we hold ourselves.

Made in the image of God, that holy spark was always there, even in the meanest, most spiteful and damaging acts. Our journey brings us to healing when we finally can see that holy spark in ourselves and in those who hurt us most.

Join the conversation. Has surrendering to God’s relentless quest for you brought you into a new way of seeing?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Learn more at www.AcrossTraditions.com.

Victory over Heartbreak

In many ways, being redeemed and healed is like finding a reality that was there all along but somehow hidden from view.  Jesus used a similar analogy.  The three parables in Luke 15—the lost sheep, the lost coin and the prodigal son—speak specifically to the joy of returning, and not just inner joy, but rejoicing worthy of celebration in community.  When the shepherd “comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’”  Similarly, when the woman has found the lost coin, “she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’” And the father hastily arranges an elaborate celebration, as “this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!”  The exegesis is offered in the text:  “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:7)  

I used to wonder why Christians perceive more joy over a sinner returning than one who does right.  Staying on the straight and narrow is no mean feat, after all.  Doing right has its own reward, and likewise doing wrong has its own punishment, but scripture is telling us it is more than that.  I think the reason has to do with heartbreak.  We could use a metaphor of a sailing ship returning with all her crew from a routine voyage versus returning from a voyage after all were feared lost at sea.  Certainly loved ones would happily welcome the expected return of any voyage.  Imagine the heartbreak and grief instead if the ship failed to return and all were thought dead.  And then, imagine the ship limping into harbor with all souls accounted for.  The rejoicing would be greater because the returning conquers heartbreak.

There is heartbreak and grief when we veer off course into wrongdoing.  We inflict that heartbreak on ourselves, on others and on God.  Upon returning, the heartbreak is not just repaired.  The joy of returning exceeds the heartbreak, overcoming it with grace.  It is like the resurrection of Jesus conquering his death with grace profoundly greater than if he has simply stayed alive.  Returning to God is a victory over heartbreak. 

During this week of Thanksgiving, we can give thanks to a God who uses all the crumbs of our failure for some good and who never stops seeking us, even in–especially in–our meanest and lowest moments.

Join the conversation.  Has the aftermath of your heartbreak ever risen to a greater good than if it had never happened?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Learn more at www.AcrossTraditions.com